Soaps, Cleaners, and Detergents

Updated 28-Jun-2024

Note: See also Cloth Diaper Laundry Detergents and Cleaners

It seems that the more we learn about how much of the human world is manufactured, and the more we realize how unnecessary, wasteful, and destructive it is, the more self-sufficiency and self-reliance becomes a demand on my soul. By self and by soul we do not mean a solitary existence, but rather a rooted one.

Soaps and Cleaning

To begin with, any modern product that has descended from an antique one, while possibly an improvement, has more likely strayed far from the mark. For indeed, the soap and detergent industry is not about making soap, or improving soap, or even preserving ancient soap-making. Rather it is about the manufacture, distribution, sale, and promotion of soap and detergent. Some might say the industry is trying to enable others to clean better, faster, cheaper, etc.

But let's begin with soap manufacturing. It is rather a simple process, and indeed has been aided by industrial processes for the production of the two constituent elements: oils and lye.

Case in point. Take the humble Aleppo soap, now faced with an existential threat due to years of war. It uses an old tradition of soap-making, a simple and time-honored process using olive oil, laurel oil, lye, water, and heat. This soap has excellent properties and even today is considered valuable and on par with the finest out of perfumeries and factories of large multinationals.

Yet, those multinationals have not improved matters much. Costs are truly high, when taking into account the quality of the product hawked in supermarkets. The vast quantities and varieties of synthetic chemicals which extend the life of the product, induce fake smells, and produce enormous waste in their creation and distribution.

Another example is the need for liquid soaps and detergents. The enormous cost of transporting what is mostly water is truly mind-boggling. And finally, while certainly some science and innovation has been applied to the soap and detergent production, what usually results is a process that requires huge scale, and therefore can only profit the wealthy.

Soaps, Detergents, and Daily Life

A brief reflection on just how many soaps, detergents and other cleaning agents in our lives, quickly becomes quite a list:

  • Hand soap, body soap, shampoo
  • Shaving cream
  • Toothpaste
  • Dishwashing liquid, washing machine soap
  • Laundry soap
  • Bathroom cleaner
  • Floor cleaner
  • Window cleaner
  • Wood cleaner
  • Grease cleaner

Adding to this are a few additional body care products such as:

  • Anti-perspirant
  • Hand moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm

Core Ingredients and Processes

For soap-making there are hot process and cold process. All processes however can be done at home. A crock-pot is not recommended (because of possible lead leaching from ceramics), and it is important to have good ventilation and safety equipment (goggles, long sleeves, gloves).

Essentially soap is oil + lye, or if liquid soap can be

  • Lye (Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide (for liquid soaps)
  • Oils (vegetable or animal)
    • Olive oil, as well as coconut oil, jojoba oil, avocado butter, shea butter
  • Essential Oils (optional)
  • Baking Soda
  • Washing Soda (can be made from heating Baking Soda to 230c for 60-90 minutes.
  • Hand soap (grated as an input into liquid hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, bathroom cleaner, and floor cleaner)
  • Coarse salt
  • Citric acid (powdered), and/or lemon juice
  • Borax
  • Vinegar
  • Coffee grounds (as a de-greaser)
  • Sugar (as a de-greaser)
  • Oatmeal (as exfoliant)
  • Corn starch (used in glass cleaners)
  • Reusable steel wool (not commercial cleaning pads that contain toxic cleaners)
  • Hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches (if needed)

Some more sophisticated approaches using surficants.

Core Ingredients of Surface Cleaners

Some Soap, Detergent, Cleaner and Body Care Recipes

Hair stuff

Basic Assumptions - Safer, Better, Cheaper

The basic assumptions of a DIY approach includes the three holy sisters: safer, better, and less expensive. First let's tackle safety.

Safety - is one of the most important aspects, especially for families with children, but obviously no one would want unsafe soap or detergent. But that is indeed what we get (and not mentioned on the labels), even with personal care "no-fragrance" soap products from large vendors:

> Cleaning product companies aren’t required to disclose the ingredients they use in their products, and what they’re keeping secret from you could be hazardous to your health. Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) commissioned an independent laboratory to test twenty popular cleaning products for hidden toxic chemicals from five top companies: Clorox, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, SC Johnson and Son, and Sunshine Makers (Simple Green). We found reproductive toxins, carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and allergens, and none of these chemicals were listed on the product label.

So unnecessary and so unsafe, and so hidden. Clearly the profits from these companies stop real consumer advocacy from taking place to ensure all toxins are reported for all products.